Feature: Telebrands’ Khubani to Launch Vacuum Cleaner Attachment With Princeton Help

Telebrands’ founder and CEO A.J. Khubani’s appointment to chair of Princeton University’s new Entrepreneurial Engineering program has led to new product innovation in the marketplace.

The program takes students through the entire process of inventing, producing and marketing a product. In January 2007, Telebrands will launch the WetterVac with five Princeton students as the co-inventors on the patent and licensing agreement.

“[Mr. Khubani’s] a real visionary in the consumer products industry, able to see market opportunities and develop new products to meet them,” said Daniel Nosenchuck, mechanical engineering professor at Princeton. “A.J. seemed like the perfect guy to talk to the students about the elements of a successful marketing strategy.”

Mr. Khubani was appointed chair to the Entrepreneurial Engineering program after the popularity of his role as guest lecturer four years ago at the invitation of Mr. Nosenchuck.

The program piloted in September 2005 and attracted students from a variety of disciplines. Half the students were from outside the School of Engineering. Mr. Khubani issued the students a challenge: If they invented an exciting product that genuinely caught his interest, Telebrands would offer the product’s inventors a licensing agreement.

Lawrence Azzaretti, a senior majoring in history of science, teamed up with operations research majors Jonathan Brosterman and Robert Moore; politics major Robert Gonzales; and electrical engineering major Sameer Shariff. These students created the WetterVac, a vacuum attachment that transforms any vacuum into a wet/dry vacuum.

Mr. Azzaretti had the idea for the WetterVac in “one of those shower moments” after the group had been brainstorming ideas.

“Starting from product A,” he said. “I had the idea for the WetterVac sometime around product Y or W.”

“We really meshed well as a team,” Mr. Moore said. “There wasn’t a lot of redundancy in terms of our strengths.”

Mr. Khubani paid for the students to fly to China during spring break to tour the manufacturing plant where the WetterVac will be produced.

Princeton’s entrepreneurial program has an industrial board of directors — a first at the university. It was assembled by Mr. Khubani and has representatives from every aspect of the design, marketing and selling process.

Board members include: product designer Thomas Linden, president of EVO Design; retailers Jane Dyer, director of home division merchandising at HSN; Scott Silver, divisional vice president and general merchandise manager at Linens ‘N Things; Mitchell Modell, CEO of Modell’s Sporting Goods ; and professional on-air talent Billy Mays, CEO of Mays Promotions Inc.

Also on the board are Tim Hawthorne, chairman and executive creative director of DRTV ad agency Hawthorne Direct Inc.; intellectual property lawyer Peter D. Murray, senior partner at Cooper & Dunham, LLP; and Alan J. Oppenheim, dean of the School of Business, Montclair State University.

The Entrepreneurial Engineering course will run again in September 2006 with a new group of could-be inventors.

“Bringing these groups together made for a lively mix of creativity and execution abilities,” Mr. Hawthorne said. “It’s a brilliant, fascinating approach to product development; much needed for our industry and a model to be produced at the commercial level.”

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